Coates vs. Sanders on Reparations

So, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest contribution to the race debate in America is the claim that, by not endorsing the payment of reparations to black Americans for historical racism, Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is a hypocritical socialist (since BS can see class disparities clearly, but he goes color-blind when confronted by “white supremacy.”) This, in my view, is a ludicrous claim — one betraying an impoverished understanding of both “reparations” and “socialism.”
As it happens, I addressed the subtle issues at play in this debate nearly a decade ago, in this essay linked here for your edification, which someone on Bernie Sanders’s staff should probably read before he makes his next speech about black lives mattering:
Trans-Generational Justice – Compensatory vs. Interpretative Approaches

The essay is long, and time is short, so here’s an abstract:

Black Reparations advocacy is problematic not because (as many critics would have it) the people pushing it are quarrelsome jerks. It is problematic, and bad for this country, and bad for black people ourselves, because it squanders blacks’ dwindling political capital and misses our chance to show genuine moral leadership in this nation, as the early civil rights era heroes had done. We are still a multi-racial nation, and will be for as far into the future as anyone can see. The moral and political issues most salient in the context of “blackness” remain to be addressed (over-crowded prisons, ghettos from which opportunity for social betterment has fled, and so on), and “compassionate conservatism” doesn’t even begin to address them. But, then, neither will the payment of financial reparations for historical harm.

The issue confronting those black leaders and intellectuals brave enough to think outside the box today is how to convert our historical inheritance of moral authority and our claim on the public’s attention — an inheritance derived from the sufferings and heroic triumphs of our ancestors — into a moral and political currency that is relevant to our time. Mournful recitations of the old civil rights mantras are obviously inadequate to the task. The fact is that there are no problems facing the “black community” that are not also problems for a vast number of brown, yellow, red and white Americans. And there are no solutions for these problems that can, or should, be enacted solely (or even mainly) to assuage the legitimate concerns of blacks. But there is a criticism of the regnant interpretation of America’s racial history in contemporary political discourses that can and should be made, in the name of historical and racial justice. I have tried in this essay to indicate what the broad outlines of such a criticism might be.

Glenn Loury joins the RBC

Welcome to our newest blogging colleague.

Sometimes, my good luck amazes me. How likely is it that I would catch four breaks in a row?

  1. I get to count someone as brilliant, eloquent, creative, and intellectually serious as Glenn Loury as my colleague and friend.
  2. I learn from Glenn that he’s been posting his political thoughts on his Facebook page.
  3. Glenn’s son convinces him that Facebook is “a suboptimal blogging platform.”
  4. I convince him that the RBC is a more nearly optimal blogging platform.

Anyway, all of that happened: due, no doubt, to some astoundingly virtuous action I took in a past life.  So, as of today, my good luck is yours as well, since you’ll have access to Glenn’s wisdom right on this page. Starting off with a bang, see above for his thoughts on the Ta-Nehisi Coates/Bernie Sanders fracas over reparations.

For those among you who haven’t encounted Glenn’s work, it often puts me in mind of an adage I learned from Edwin Land: the truth of a polarized debate often lies not somewhere along the polarity, but at right angles to it. Glenn is about the most orthogonal thinker I know.

Liveblogging the debate

That’s a thirty

Good night, and to hell with Star Wars.

Editorial comment

Three impressive performances. Even O’Malley sounded like someone who could actually be President. I was especially glad to see how calmly and forcefully Clinton handled hectoring questions and Sander’s attacks.

Closing statements

Clinton, having opened, gets to close, which is done in the name of balance but hardly seems fair.

Sanders starts out by praising his rivals, by contrast with the Republicans.  Mentions growing up poor. Promises “a political revolution.” “This great country and our government belongs to all of us, not just a handful of billionaires.”

O’Malley flatters New Hampshire voters. Attacks GOP. “Anger and fear never built America.” Comprehensive immigration reform, debt-free college. Climate change as “the greatest business opportunity to come to the United States in fifty years.” (Only the second mention of climate change in two hours; neither of them was substantive.

Clinton: If a Republican gets sworn is, our rights are at risk. Social Security and the VA health system may face privatization. Planned Parenthood will be defunded. All elections are important, but some are more important than others. Her granddaughter’s future. “Thank you, good night, and may the Force be with you.”

Another break

Chatterers echoing GOP attacks on Clinton for saying “we’re now where we need to be” on ISIS. Apparently if the public disagrees, that settles the question. No analysis

Idiotic question

To Clinton: what sort of First Lady will Bill Clinton make? Follow-ups to others.

All tried their best to answer an undignified question with dignity.



Question to Clinton: Libya is on your account. Do you want to say you’re sorry?

(Howcum none of the Republican questioners were this rude?)

Ans: We needed to overthrow Khaddafi. Libyans wanted it. The other Arabs wanted it. Libyans are now trying to come together to form a national government and get rid of ISIS.

Another nasty follow-up: How much responsibility do you bear? Ans: “We offered more help than the Libyans were willing to take.” “I’m not giving up on Libya.”

Sanders acknowledges complexity, then mentions Mossadegh and Allende. (Neither of them much of a parallel with Khaddafi.) Clinton says again that Sanders voted to dump Khaddafi. O’Malley denounces “lust for regime-toppling,” demands more humint.

Now heroin

Q Forty-something percent in NH know someone with a heroin problem. What you gonna do?

Sanders:  “A tragedy all over the country.” Tell the docs and Big Pharma that they have to get their act together and write fewer prescriptions. Addiction is a disease. Treatment right away. (Doesn’t say how.)

Clinton: She’s heard some great ideas. Five-point plan. $10B in federal money. Come out with a plan. New ideas about policing, but she doesn’t say what they are. Too many opioids being prescribed. (That’s two votes for that, but no mention of how to do it.) First responders should carry naloxone.

O’Malley: A third vote for reining in over-prescribing. Local partnerships. Intervene with “near-miss” overdoses.

No mention of the value of swift-certain-fair community corrections.




Another break, then policing

To Clinton: Do you side with BLM or with the police? Good, textured answer that rejects the false alternative.  Have to deal with racism, but don’t forget the good work the cops do.

O’Malley gives a still more textured answer based on his work as Mayor and Governor. Police transparency.

Sanders agrees with the others, then pivots to mass incarceration. He’s against racism. (I’m glad to hear it.) Thinks cops shouldn’t be shooting unarmed people. (Duhhhhh…) Hates the War on Drugs, will repeal Federal marijuana prohibition. (Which has nothing to do with this problem.) Community policing. Need to end “minimal sentencing.” (I think he means mandatory minimums.)



Third question: higher ed How do you lower the cost? To Sanders: doesn’t making it free just shift the cost to taxpayers? Not much answer on the cost question, which is probably right. Sanders talks free tuition. O’Malley talks income-based repayment. Clinton wants to give states matching-fund incentives to pony up, and focus grants on the poor and the middle class rather than paying for everyone. Unfortunately, Clinton repeats her awful “No tax increases for families under $250k” promise. I can only hope she’s weaseling on this, planning to hide revenue gains in non-income taxes, such as a FTT or a carbon tax. Sanders: Problem is that it’s going to the top tenth of 1%. Paid family and medical leave for $1.61 a week. Clinton: Family and medical leave, sure, but make the rich pay for it. O’Malley: I’ve balanced a budget. (Oh, puh-leeze!) Increase Social Security. (I’m with him on that.) Repeal the “entitlement” to reduced taxes on capital gains. [That is, he doesn’t say it, but he does want to raise taxes on some families below $250k/yr. Good for him!]

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